Technology as a Developmental Influence
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Flye, A., Gibson, G., Seemann, E. & Wilkinson, L. (2002). Technology as a Developmental Influence. In D. Willis et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2002 (pp. 2511-2512). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.
Retrieved from http://www.editlib.org/p/17732.
Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference (SITE) 2002
Nashville, Tennessee, USA
Dee Anna Willis, Jerry Price & Niki Davis
More Information on SITE
Table of Contents
Human development is largely dependent on the environment. A compromise accepted by many in the seminal nature-nurture debate is that the environment determines how heredity expresses itself. Society has changed much in the last eighty years, and the degree of change within the last twenty to thirty years has been more rapid than in any other period of human history. Basic skills sets have always changed based on the availability of technology and the dynamics of social convention. The advent of the computer age has changed human occupational, social, and educational development significantly in a very short period of time. The computer is likely responsible for the single largest developmental shift across many areas of learning and performance; this is especially true of not only what children, adolescents, and young adults are expected to be able to do, but how they conceptualize problem solving and the degree to which abstract reasoning is important in concept formation. The workplace has changed significantly due to the automatization of many formerly manual jobs. Education has changed on several fronts as well; not only do the computers (and other sophisticated electronic devices) require special skills to use, they are also now part of standardized education in many areas and will only become further ingrained in education service delivery at all levels. Occupations formerly considered to be non- or low skill vocations now require at least some degree of technological sophistication. This level of knowledge is considered minimal compared with other, more technology dependent occupations, but for the unskilled person trying to learn a new job, these basic skills can pose a significant obstacle. A computerized notepad used for tracking deliveries, for example, is relatively uncomplicated compared to the tracking web of an air traffic controller, but for one who has never been exposed to this notepad or related devices, it is a completely novel skill. Because the changes in available technology have occurred so rapidly over the last three decades, the more glacial pace of social change is having difficulty keeping up. Standard developmental influences, such as modeling work behavior from a parent or a role model, acquiring training in a traditional vocational or elementary classroom, and hands-on exploration of one's immediate surroundings will likely not be sufficient to teach fundamental skills necessary to later acquire more advanced abstract concepts and hands-on technology skills. There is a significant impetus to put computers in elementary and college classrooms, but not all classrooms have them and many do not have a sufficient number of machines for the number of students served; many learners on all levels have insufficient exposure to technology in the learning environment and hands-on time is severely restricted. The computers are present in most learning environments, but in many cases the number of machines is simply insufficient. Many students of all ages do not have computers at home and do not have access to them in their community. Government initiatives, such as Head Start, do not have the funding to provide significant numbers of computers in all areas along with instructors trained in how to maximize their utility as teaching tools. This lack of access sets the stage for learners, child and adult, who do not have access to computer and electronic technology outside of the classroom to be at a competitive disadvantage compared to those who contact advanced technology in a number of different settings. This paper examines the importance acquiring technology skills at an early age and provides suggestions for opening up resources to provide this experience to as many children and adult learners as possible. Because of the ever-increasing reliance on advanced technology in our society, technology itself is becoming less of a specialized tool for certain vocations and less of an entertainment modality and more of a core aspect of our shared culture. The lack of computer skills 20 years ago was not a major hindrance for the majority of occupations and learning environments, but the lack of basic literacy skills was (and still is) a major deficit. All but the most basic of manual labor functions require at least some small degree technological sophistication; individuals without those skills may as well be functionally illiterate. The importance of learning technology skills from the job performance/occupational requirement perspective requires some examination of the evolution of most common occupations with respect to the availability, reliability, and capacity of computer and electronic technology. Computers and computer-controlled advanced technologies have become readily available to business and industry, companies, service providers, and manufacturers. Those who integrated these advances early on found themselves at an initial competitive advantage over the competition. With the widespread integration of technology into the workplace, this advantaged seemed to normalize across employers, leaving those who either failed to integrate advanced technology or failed to fully incorporate and update technology on hand at a competitive disadvantage. Advanced technology is no longer an advantage, it is requirement. Simple paper and pencil functions, such as signing for a parcel or filling out a room reservation in a hotel have been almost entirely replaced by computers and portable data units. Many organizations keep few paper copies (unless required by law) and store most of their data and documents electronically. Any business or service provider that attempts to operate without at least a minimal level of technological integration is almost certain to fall short in their respective market. The integration of technology into our lives has come both as a massive rush of change and as subtle changes to everyday life. The computer revolution suddenly revolutionized mass communication, giving us an entirely new medium in the internet. Just as revolutionary but with greater subtlety came debit and credit card purchases in supermarkets, on-line shopping, the computerization of library catalogs, word processors with numerous editing and graphics functions, computer controlled ignition in vehicles of all sorts, cellular phones, and so many other changes. Skill in the use of advanced technology, even in as simple a matter as operating a data pad for a customer to sign for a parcel, is now a fundamental skill set as important as basic literacy. Twenty years ago an illiterate adult entering the workplace found his or her options limited to the most basic of labor or service vocations. Now, even many of these require some degree of technological sophistication. Lack of basic literacy skills is less of a problem than it was twenty years ago, but the lack of basic technology skills is fast replacing illiteracy as a fundamental skills deficit. The social and educational environments have changed as well due to the infusion of technology into every aspect of our lives. Technology has become a developmental experience and is no longer a set of supplemental skills. Children socialize by playing games. Many of the games children play involve computer technology, and the skill to use such game stations are relatively easy to acquire, especially if there is another child to act as a model. Internet use and skill with the more advanced functions of a personal computer are more difficult. Children who lack these skills may withdraw from the settings in which they are used. This early skills development and the development of patterns of approach/avoidance behavior to technology will influence the learner for the rest of his/her life. Technology serves not only an occupational function, but is increasingly a social medium and catalyst as well. Many people who feel they have decided weakness in one area or another avoid that area of perceived deficit almost entirely. Potentially, the lack of education and appropriate availability of developmental experiences with technology could create an "out group" of people who not only have difficulty maintaining adequate employment, but who also find themselves at a distinct social disadvantage. Not only have the tools of the trades changed, and not only have the media of the social environment followed the evolution of technology, but basic conceptualization and cognitive mediation has changed as well. People with exposure to technology as a key feature of their environment likely develop advanced thinking skills earlier than those without such experiences. Those for whom technology has been consistently available likely think in more abstract, representational terms, as opposed to a more concrete style involving more realistic references and less abstract interpretation. Advanced concept formation and problem solving are likely the benefits of exposure to technology across many settings over a sustained period of time. Potential solutions will be discussed with an analytical emphasis on development and skills acquisition. The main problem is not inability to learn these skills, but the insufficiency of learning opportunities for many learners. Within the economic structure of the United States a series of broad solutions, based on collaboration, is possible. Three stages will be examined. The first is setting up the appropriate learning environments and reinforcing those that already exist. These environments include educational settings and areas in the common social environment. The second is to make these experiences available to all people, especially those who may be at an economic disadvantage. The last step to ensure that the experiences being fostered are general enough to apply to a variety of settings, especially those beyond work and education. Collaboration between businesses, educational institutions, and government programs is also examined in the final paper and strongly encouraged as a highly efficient and economically feasible method of ensuring maximum availability of technology and training. For example, Head Start could receive older computers from a business; the business writes them off on their taxes and the local university sends instructors and graduate students to the center to act as coaches, facilitators, and mentors. The businesses that donate older (functional) machines to libraries, schools, and learning centers can gain exposure to the learners by providing volunteers to teach basic computer skills. The keys to success are availability and cooperation. A focus on how technology itself, specifically computers and advanced electronics, is a new developmental force with respect to more abstract individual thinking skills and how the individual conceptualizes work and education will be highlighted in the paper.
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